MISSOULA, Mont. -

The following is an update on western Montana air quality from Sarah Coefield, Air Quality Specialist for the Missoula City-County Health Department:

As evidenced by this morning's gnarly red sun, there is quite a bit of smoke still lingering in our air space, courtesy of the fires raging in Washington and Oregon. 

Any time you can look directly at the sun, you know there's a lot of particulate in the air.  Fortunately for those of us in the Missoula area, the smoke screening the sun and providing this morning's golden glow is currently staying far overhead. 

We've seen some clearing of smoke throughout southwest Montana, particularly in the Hamilton area.  Missoula's monitor in Boyd Park has also shown some of the smoke occasionally lifting up and out of our breathing space.  Frenchtown, however, has been holding steady with particulate concentrations showing little variation over the last 24 hours.  Air quality starts to degrade north of Missoula.  Smoke rolled into Seeley Lake last night, and it has yet to break out.  Cumulative air quality in Seeley Lake is currently Unhealthy for Sensitive groups, but it may become Unhealthy if the area doesn't get a break by this afternoon.

This morning's satellite photos shows a dramatic, large plume of smoke from the streaming into Montana from the Washington area.  The smoke appears as a smudgy gray in the photo, and can be differentiated from the white, more defined cloud cover to our east.

We may see some further lifting up of smoke from the valley floor as the day heats up and afternoon winds arrive, but any respite will likely be short lived.  The wildfires in Washington and Oregon aren't showing any signs of slowing down.  There are red flag warnings in both states, and we may see another day of extremely active wildfires throughout the region.  The winds in our forecast are from the west northwest this afternoon, which may do little more than deliver more Washington smoke to the area. 

Smoke from fires burning in Oregon, Washington and Idaho settled into the valleys overnight, and air quality in Missoula County has deteriorated, particularly for long term exposure.  Sensitive individuals who have been exposed to the smoke in the air for the last 24 hours may be feeling some effects from the smoke.  Air quality in Missoula and Frenchtown is curently Good to Moderate and Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups for cumulative exposure.

The smoke from Washington fires has been hitting northwest Montana pretty since last night, and Seeley Lake has seen considerably more smoke than the Missoula Valley.  Conditions in Seeley Lake are Moderate for short term exposure, but Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups for exposures of 8 hours or more.

Southwest Montana (including the southern parts of Missoula County) has been clearing out a little this morning.  There is still some haze and smoke in the sky, but it isn't lingering as much in the valleys.

Most of the smoke is still far overhead, where it is thick enough to contribute to this morning's weak sunlight.   

The strong breezes forecasted for this afternoon will likely temporarily help clear out the hazy conditions, but if the fires burning in the northwest continue to grow, those winds may also deliver more smoke later this evening.

PHOTOS and MAPS

Check out a shot of the sun from this morning.  Anytime you can look directly at the sun, you know there's a lot of stuff in the air.  This morning's anemic, golden sunlight can be attributed to the smoke cloaking our region in addition to some high cloud cover.

This morning's satellite photo shows a long stream of high smoke pouring into Montana from the Washington area.

Yesterday's satellite photo shows fires burning strong in Oregon and Washington and sending smoke toward our area. In the close up photo, you can see the smoke closing in in Missoula from both the northwest (Washington fires) and the southwest (Oregon/Idaho fires).  This morning's smoke detection image shows a blanket of smoke covering the region.